Thursday 31 July 2008

Z is supplanted in the Sage's Affections!!!! !

There is nothing to be done. My husband has transferred his loving attentions to Another.

Big Pinkie is an elderly cow. She has reached the age when she would not normally be bred or milked. Normally, such a cow would be sent to the abattoir. However, Jonathan loves her - as do all of us. He wants her to live out her days in peaceful retirement. So she's come to live with us.

Also living with us are quite a lot of pheasants. There have been several nests this year.

The Owl Trust chap visited again this morning. He found a lot of barn own pellets around the box, but no sign of youngsters having been reared. Maybe it's a young bird that has taken over the box and there will be a nest next year.

Welcome, Big Pinkie!!(!)

Martin's comment reminded me of the time when my father, as a very young man in the 1920s (he was born in 1910) was had up in front of the magistrate for speeding. The magistrate was his own father. He was found guilty, fined half a crown and the Major, before leaving at the end of the session, paid the fine himself.

He was a pretty hair-raising driver himself, was the Major. He thought that allowing more than half an hour to get from Lowestoft to Ipswich was very dull. He had a chauffeur, Eddie, but often used to drive himself. Eddie would have looked after the cars, driven my grandmother and driven them both to more formal engagements.

Anyhow. Back to here and now; or rather to yesterday evening. Squiffany prepared dinner last night, a splendid salad with lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes, celery, spring onions and peppers, hot-smoked salmon, cheddar and feta cheeses and ham. She then helped her mother with a rice salad. It's all very convivial, having dinner on the lawn together, and good for the children who enjoy an occasion being made of a meal. They always do eat properly - although Dilly has recently found that putting their lunchtime sandwiches into a lunchbox is more tempting than a plate on a hot day, when appetites are low. They both are adept at using a fork and spoon and Squiffany is reasonably skilled with a knife too. We mostly ignore the occasional help given by fingers.

After getting the food ready, there was a short time to wait until Al arrived home, so I sat down and replied to a couple of emails and got on with the minutes of a meeting. Ro's voice wafted through from the passageway. "Dad, a chicken's just walked in through the door. Oh. She's just done a poo." The chicken was picked up and taken outside again, and fed a morsel of cheese. I saw no sign of guano when I went through, so evidently the Sage had already disposed of the evidence.

Earlier in the day, I'd looked after Pugsley when his mother and sister were out. He'd had lunch but not a sleep. He was playing with some Lego. He bustled about the room looking purposeful while I read the papers. He didn't say a word, although he looked at me once in a while. His expression was pleasant but unsmiling. After some time, I started to address a few remarks to him. He didn't reply. I asked if I could eat the piece of cucumber left over from his lunch. He came over and took it, but didn't really want it. I put it back in the box, assuring him I'd leave it for him later.

I put him on his bed. He immediately curled up ready to go to sleep. He was still asleep an hour and a half later, when Dilly and Squiffany came home.

The Sage has just come in. Big Pinkie has come to live with us!

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Didn't touch a drop, honest

Friends called round yesterday afternoon, for tea. I'm afraid I hadn't made scones, as the Sage only told me they were going to come ten minutes before they arrived; mind you, that wasn't his fault as they turned up half an hour earlier than we thought they were going to. After they left, I sped into town for my shopping before the shops shut. On the way back, as I turned into the road where I live, I saw Peter standing in his drive. He stepped forward and waved, so I stopped to speak to him.

He wanted to tell me that his wife had gone into hospital the day before - he has cared for her for some years through increasingly poor health, which has become harder in the last few years because of her gradually increasing dementia. At the weekend she found it very difficult to walk with her frame. She weighs a lot more than he does and, if she were to fall, he couldn't pick her up. In the end, he asked the doctor to call and she found a place in a local cottage for her temporarily while she is assessed and, I suppose, so is he.

In some ways, it must be a relief to him to have some respite, little though he'd ever wanted this to happen. We chatted of this and that for a while and then he asked, delicately, if the reason I'm always cycling around town nowadays is that I've been banned from driving?

Can you imagine the look on my face? Dear oh dear. My goodness. Dangerous driving? Drink driving? Z? Health and fitness and the saving of petrol, I assured him and added, with perfect truth, that I've never had so much as a point on my licence in my life.

I wonder, now, how many other people have made the same assumption.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Z listens

I vastly appreciate it when someone recommends music to me. It takes some confidence, I think, as music is so personal. A couple of years ago, it took much persuasion for Ro to agree to let me listen to some of his music. Finally, he asked why I was so insistent. I explained that he came with me to classical and jazz concerts, enjoyed and discussed them with me and was open-minded about what he listened to, even if it was not something that he would buy himself. I respected his taste and would like to repay his courtesy by being introduced to the music he liked. Finally, he got it and agreed, asking only that I listen to whole albums, not single tracks. Thus, I was introduced to Neutral Milk Hotel, Grandaddy, Lali Puna and, most appreciatively, The Mountain Goats, amongst others.

When someone lends me a CD, I always make a point of buying another album by the same band (or at least one of the bands on the CD) if I like it as I think that's only fair. I rarely if ever buy anything by someone particularly well-known (that is, so thoroughly in the charts that they even pierce my lack of interest), so they should have my financial support.

Since then, and I don't understand it at all, it's not that my taste has changed exactly, but it's expanded to a degree I can't explain. What I'd have dismissed as a noise, a few years ago, I now listen to with pleasure and interest. I gave up on popular music back in the early 1970s. In fact, it was the Osmonds that I blame. And Gary Bleeding Gl1tter. Suddenly, music was performed for or by children (Teenyboppers gave way to Weenyboppers, rather like CBBC and CBeebies now), or else it was T Rex or Slade, neither of which did it for me. I stopped listening for 33 years and reserved my affections for classical music. Later, I turned to jazz as well, but three decades of current music passed me by almost entirely, exceot for sometimes dips into John Peel for the man himself, didn't make head or tail of what he played. I have a depth and breadth of ignorance that would surprise you. This is fine with me, it means that I have heard of hardly anyone and come to it with a genuinely open mind, and I don't even know enough to be embarrassed by what I don't know.

Several of you have kindly suggested albums or artists I should try, and what I've written so far is a preamble to my thanks to Mike (Troubled Diva, that is - or do you want a link?). I have become a bit obsessed with Shearwater's album, Rook, which he suggested I try, a couple of weeks ago and which, of course, I promptly bought. In the way of good music, it took me a few listens to thoroughly like it - sometimes, what I like to start with can grate after the fourth time of playing ( a mark of my tentative taste) - but now I play it most days. Jonathan Meiburg has the most stunningly assured counter tenor voice and the band are excellent instrumentalists.

I was playing it when I started to write, but now I've moved on to the Old 97's. I like contrast. It'll be some Britten next (Benjy Brit, as the eponymous high school is called in the town of his birth).

Oh and, listening again, I forgot to mention how beautifully he phrases the lyrics. Commas and all, although not intrusively.

Coo, that funny rained*

I've been toddling around gently this morning, having been kept awake for a long time in the night by a rather splendid storm. Ro and I watched the weather forecast at 11.30 last night and the midnight forecast picture was heavy rain over most of the country, with East Angular in the thick of it. We peered out at the sky. "So, where is it?" wondered Ro. It was still dry an hour later when I went to bed, and an hour after that when I went to sleep. An hour later, however, it was quite spectactliar. I trotted downstairs to make sure rain wasn't pouring down the walls (this sort of thing can happen in an old house) and unplugged the computer while I was there.

All is calm, all is bright this morning. Tilly is gently snoring on the sofa next to me. I am hungry, being too lazy to go and find any breakfast - the French plums and greengages are delicious at present. I have a bowl next to me that contained cherries last night, but I scoffed the lot. Tut.

Ro and I debated the advisability of paying up front, at a discount, for a year's DVD hire. "It means I'd have to stay living here for another year if I wanted to watch the films," he said. "After all, you'd take weeks to get around to watching one, it isn't worth it just for you". It seems that his mind's been dwelling on this living at home thing. It's hardly a time to buy, with the prospect of house prices dropping, but otherwise he has the choice between renting and saving and he likes to watch his bank balance going up.

*When I was a child and moved to Lowestoft, I found it very odd that 'funny' was used to give emphasis - "Do that hurt?" "That funny hurt". I haven't heard it for a while though, I wonder if it quietly died out?

Monday 28 July 2008

Z lazes and does as she is used to

I'm on holiday this week, I've decided. Other than the five days I spent in Madrid in April, I haven't made any plans to go away this year and so I shall holiday at home for a few days. I took breakfast - plain yoghurt, a banana, a nectarine and some apple juice - onto the lawn with the papers and I only came in a while ago because the phone was ringing.

The phone rings only six times before the answerphone cuts in, so I ran. I ran yesterday too - just down the aisle of the church, because I was both playing the clarinet and making the coffee (this was my own fault because I cocked up the rota) and I needed to get into the kitchen before a queue of coffee-seekers formed. A twenty-yard run may sound unimpressive, but it's more than I've been able to manage for a year. It isn't just that it hurts, but I can't physically do it as, by the second step, I'm lurching so awkwardly that it's quicker to walk. So I'm very cheered by this improvement. I know it doesn't mean anything; that is, it's not going to get spontaneously 'better'. But, while I like walking in the 'going for a walk' sense, I've always run when I'm on my way somewhere. Plodding down the garden to pick some vegetables is boring. So I feel splendidly normal, in an ordinary sense, at present. I think I'll go and start on the Times crossword to celebrate.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Carless an' grassier

We went out for lunch today; Al and Dilly's birthday treat for Ro, in which they kindly included the rest of us. I ate no breakfast in preparation and tucked into a full plateful, only passing on a roast potato to the Sage and a piece of Yorkshire pudding to Ro. It was very hot. We sat outside in the shade of big parasols, and when we arrived home some of us went to sleep. A couple of pints of Adnams aided my own happy slumber.

I've lent my car to Weeza. They're intending to buy one, but to get about and look they really need a car in the first place. I checked my diary and I don't need it until Thursday week, as long as the Sage gives Ro and me a lift to and from the station for our London visit. I must book somewhere for dinner for Monday week. Being a canny sort of a girl, my daughter always books among the special offers (usually half price food) on Top Table. We've found some excellent restaurants that way.

I have hardly anything in my diary for the next week. I have no excuse at all for not catching up on paperwork, housework and gardening. On the other hand, I don't need an excuse for doing nothing, except relaxing on the lawn with a long, cool drink and a book. If the weather remains hot, that's what I'll be doing, mostly.

Saturday 26 July 2008

Z needs a little lie down

I feel a little queasy. I tasted everything, every entry in each class*. Some of them had to be tasted more than once, especially the cheese and onion quiches. By the time I got to the eighth, I'd rather forgotten which was which. The dozen or so chutneys was the same, and not so easy to eat by the spoonful. There were ten bread and butter puddings, two of them chocolate. Fortunately, there were only two entrants for the chocolate truffles but, as it was, I could hardly bring myself to taste the rows of pots of jellies and jams. The standard was really high though - fortunately, as I had to taste it whether it was nice or not. I had a helper, who fetched and carried and wrote down the winners, and she tasted her way round the table too. When it came to the elderflower cordial, she said she couldn't say anything about them, as one of them was hers. There were five and all were good - I decided on the two fourth prizewinners (well...) and the third and then said it was between the other two. I was tasting again when my phone rang. It was the Sage.

I can't remember whether I've mentioned our friend who has recently had a cochlear implant, but she found the whole thing a bit of an ordeal, not helped by having to be driven to Cambridge every week for weeks on end. But today, she telephoned and the Sage was so excited he had to tell me about it. For years we've had to email or phone a message service, where a clerk types out your message and it's printed out by the phone (I am hazy here, as I haven't actually seen it). Finally, she can hear well enough to have a telephone conversation.

After I put the phone down I had one last taste of the two yummiest cordials and made my decision. D didn't say anything for a while, but when we were tasting the truffles, she told me that I'd given her drink first prize.

After all the judging, we had lunch - yes, I know, how could we indeed? I had some green salad and a piece of bread to remove the jamminess from my mouth. Then we took a stroll round the whole show.

As I was gazing at the potatoes, I realised that I was standing next to a celebrity. Not JonnyB, nor Dave, not even Murph. It was 'im off The Archers. Neil Carter's real self, who lives in the village. His potatoes had won second prize.

*except the raw eggs

A Z come to judgment! yea, a Z!*

Well, I don't know. I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep for all of an hour, lay for another expecting to doze off again, spent yet another hour doing, by torchlight, the foolishly frippery puzzles on the back two pages of Times2 and then got up. I'm slightly disappointed as I will be busy later in the day and won't have time for a lovely little nap.

Yesterday evening was amusing, though. Dilly and Al had had one of Those Days, which started when the children both woke up and went along to their bedroom at 5.30. It took some time for threats of awful doom if they didn't go straight back to bed to work and the day went somewhat downhill after that. Al dropped a 3lb box of button mushrooms on the shop floor, a whole tray of raspberries, freshly delivered, was not fit for sale (he'd ordered 5, but he could have easily sold them all) and things were generally slightly out of kilter. Back at home, the children were fractious and Dilly was running late - though her day improved as they all went out with Weeza and did enjoyable things in the just north of Norwich Broadland sort of area. When she arrived home and I invited them all round to dinner, she was pleased.

The Sage went out to light the barbecue, I went to take washing off the line and put more on and at that moment a light rain started to fall. 'Won't last' we agreed, and I pegged out the washing, pleased that I'd rescued the dry stuff. The rain stopped. The Sage lit up. I took stuff out to the table. Rain started again. "That's all right, look at those broken clouds" the Sage assured me as he left to fetch Al home - Friday is his late opening night and he doesn't close until 7.

All was well when I started cooking and it was not until we were seated at the table in the garden that a fine but steady rain came down. We huddled under the parasol and giggled. Pugsley wanted to sing 'Happy Birthday' to Ro again - it wasn't his birthday and he wasn't there, but we obliged; well the females did. The Sage and Al raised a couple of eyebrows. The parasol proved it wasn't a parapluie by allowing a thin mist through. Dilly lent Squiffany her cardigan, which she draped over her head and shoulders. A gathered pool of water on my side of the parasol overflowed onto my chair and I squeaked. We observed how very English we must look, all doggedly eating our dinner in the rain - though we'd have got wetter as we ran for cover.

By the time we'd finished, the rain had cleared and some of us chatted and others frolicked.

Today, I am going to judge the Domestic (ie cooking) classes at Lovely Next Village's Gardening Club Show. I am prepared to enjoy breaking my diet for it, as of course I have to taste everything. This is what I will judge:-

33 Coffee Sandwich Cake, not iced
34 Plate of 6 Meringues
35 6 Chocolate Chip Cookies
36 Cheese and Onion Quiche
37 Loaf of White Bread
38 6 Chocolate Truffles
39 1 Jar of Jam
40 1 Jar of Jelly
41 1 Jar of Chutney
42 l Jar of Pickles
43 6 Eggs
44 1 bottle of Homemade Elderflower Cordial
45 Men’s Class Bread and Butter Pudding

Last year, there were four entries in the pickle class, which were all so different but all excellent, that I gave four first prizes. No one minded, it's that sort of village. There is no such thing as Not As Scheduled, each entry is judged on its taste first and foremost and such matters as size of baking dish is left to the entrant. The men's class is usually wonderful. Last year, it was lemon cake. It was hard to choose, especially between the first two, which were the best lemon cakes I'd ever tasted.
The eggs will be still in the shell and uncooked. I will crack one from each plate and inspect the contents, but not eat them.

* An pat on the back for the first to give me the next line.

Friday 25 July 2008

Family bonding

Before I left for Norwich, I put some monkfish in to marinate in a hastily concocted mixture of lime juice, olive oil, ground cumin and turmeric, a mixture chosen almost at random but not quite. Weeza took little persuasion to come home for the evening and we called in at the supermarket at Riverside on the way home. To my surprise, I liked M0rr1son, maybe because I had taken a rare trip to Tesc0 the other day and not liked that at all; it was enormous and confusing with a poor layout. I was slightly less pleased when we left, as the traffic lights further on held up the traffic on the road so that there was never any room for cars leaving the car park to join the queue. I finagled my way in, in the end, with a ditzy blonde routine.

Dilly had made salads, so I just made a quick tomato salsa and we took plates and cutlery out, and glasses and wine of course, and the Sage cooked dinner. Ro didn't know his sister would be joining us so he was pleased. Later he went in to Yagnub to meet friends.

Today, it being Friday, his bosses will take him out to lunch. Yes, that's their Friday thing. They then all finish up the week's work, so may finish late or early, in which case they all play a computer game. Ro is happy in his place of work. He's going to spend the weekend with his sister and then they'll come back on Sunday and we're all going out for lunch.

Late last night, we spent a bit of time looking at websites - villages, small businesses etc. and Ro gave his professional opinion on them, which was highly entertaining. He was a bit scathing about those who quote relatively high prices and whose programming didn't meet his standards. One firm boasted 25 years' experience "Sure," he said "and it shows, a lot of that experience is 25 years old."

And so, after half an hour's cheerful carping, to bed.

Today, Weeza is having a day out with Dilly and the children. Splendid.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Happy Birthday, dear Ro-Ro

This week, I've had to catch up with looming deadlines, most of which involved things that people had rather thought I'd done weeks ago. For one of them, I visited the local printer. I had given them forewarning, ages ago, but not taken in the item for printing. "That time of the year again?" said John, jovially. "Rather imminently, I'm afraid," I apologised. "It's my fault for not coming in sooner, but now we're a bit close to the deadline." "You want it back yesterday, then" he said in his taking-it-in-his stride voice. Actually, by the end of next week will do, but I didn't mention that. They've just taken a proof copy to the shop and the Sage has given it to me (so useful, doing things locally, no special trips needed). I have a feeling I'll have the completed order back by the end of the week, so it'll look as if I was in time all along.

This morning's meeting was the Festival Committee. Yes, the festival was two weekends ago; this was the - well, post mortem is hardly the phrase. Debrief? Hm. Post-festival meeting, shall we say. I took notes of things to bear in mind next year and we've set the date of the next meeting in January 09.

Anyway, no matter about all that. The important matter of the day is that it's my little boy's birthday. Ro is 24 today. Happy Birthday, Ro!!(!)

Tuesday 22 July 2008

The Sage learns how to argue, but still is wrong

Last night, or this morning, I was in bed soon after midnight and the Sage (having already had a little zizz) joined me, freshly bathed, soon after. A hug and kiss and I was ready to fall asleep, when he started a business discussion.

Now, a brief exchange of interesting news is one thing, but this was a quite big change of business policy with which I radically disagreed. I said so. He replied. We weren't quarrelling, you understand, but there was a need for a major discussion here.

"Darling, it's quarter past midnight and I was nearly asleep. I really don't want to talk about it now, you can't land something like that on me at this hour of the night". Fortunately, he agreed. However, he was not at all sleepy. It was after one o'clock, the last time I looked at the clock.

We discussed it again this morning. It was a splendid discussion, all respectful and forceful without any lack of respect for the other's view and a clear allowance of space for hearing one viewpoint before coming up with the other's.

He seems to have agreed with me. Good man. Maybe it was a good thing, explaining my tactics in an argument. We kept very focused and itemised all pros and cons - and then he realised I was right all along.

If he'd been, I'd have said so. I'd have said he was wonderful too. Actually, I might have said that at some time anyway.

The Lord don't like you as you ain't

There was a lack of cynicism in the 60s and early 70s. A fair bit of complacency of course, but also real optimism. Pat reminds me of all the falsies. Now we (well, some of us) have implants, veneers, injections and lifts, but then, towards the end of the decade, we (well, some of us) just cheerily added bits on. Padded bras if we were not quite well enough endowed, hairpieces if not all-out wigs, false eyelashes, the lot. They used to fall off sometimes, which struck everyone more as hilarious than embarrassing.

I remember when I worked at the library. Not quite the 60s in fact; I started there with a Saturday job in 1970. One girl came in with long, purple-painted nails one day. At some point in the morning, she issued a squeal. "I've shut my nail in someone's book!" A pale stump was left. She rushed to get the pack of new nails, stuck one on and started to paint it. Customers were still coming in and had to be served. We were all laughing so much we could hardly stand up.

Some women had so many artificial additions that it caused some anxiety once they were married. Their husbands had never seen them without full makeup on, so they had to choose between coming clean and showing their true unadorned selves or getting up early every morning, adding the eyelashes, the hair, doing the backcombing, putting on the face, all before he was awake.

I tried false eyelashes myself, once. I know, imagine how absurd I looked. I was only about 17. I remember the Sprout came round to pick us up (we were friends long before we looked upon each other with sentimental eyes) and he struggled manfully to mask his horror. I suspect I took them off again before we went out for dinner, as I don't remember making a complete idiot of myself all around town.

My mother and my sister had hairpieces. They both had short brown hair and they pinned the switch underneath their own at the crown and then backcombed to hide the join. It seemed to look fine then.

On the whole, except for the short-lived eyelash experiment, I didn't do any of this. I knew it wouldn't suit me. I was small and pale with long blonde hair which I either wore loose or twisted up into a knot. I didn't care much what I looked like though I was, simultaneously, very self-conscious. Certainly the black-eyed pale-lipped look wasn't me, but neither was the vivid and intense one. I was no hippy, thinking they were naive and unrealistic (I'm more tolerant now; I still think they were but I rather like that now). I remember when a girl of my age - about 14 - came up to me in the playground and intoned, passionately, "Make love not war 'cause love is lovely and war is ugly" - honestly, I'm not kidding, she said every word and she was all intense and starry-eyed - I gazed at her in bemusement.

Monday 21 July 2008

Weeza's Freeza

Dave's comment on the last post reminds me of the time, about 40 years ago, when my sister attended a rather posh cookery school called W1nkf1eld Pl@ce. A girl's contact lens dropped in the cucumber soup that was being made for dinner. No amount of fishing around could find it, so each girl was instructed to suck the soup through her teeth. Her own teeth, that is - thank you, Gordie, for noting the ambiguity. There was no sign of the lens, however. This was in the days of hard lenses, of course.

I took my daughter (who has no car yet) down to the doctor's to register; she'd already made an appointment with the midwife for later in the day. Then we went food shopping and spend the rest of the day cooking (me) and putting things away and washing up (Weeza). I did lots of basic minced beef sauce, to be turned into Bolognese, chilli, whatever, coq au vin, a chicken casserole with peppers, onion and tomato, chicken, mushroom and sweetcorn soup and minestrone soup. Apart from some roast chicken which she can eat over the next day or two, it will all go into the freezer, to be hauled out in the next few weeks.

When we were at the surgery again waiting for her appointment, a cheerful doctor came out for her next patient. "Ooh, I can smell some lovely cooking going on! Where's that coming from?" "Er, that might be me. I've been cooking all afternoon." "Onions," she said, coming over to me and sniffing; "yes, it's you. It smells delicious." I didn't quite know where to put myself.

All is fine with Weeza and she still feels very well. I must say, the surgery is lovely. All the staff seem very cheerful and friendly, including the receptionist (!) and she's quite happy about everything.

Ro arrived home during the afternoon and went straight up for a hot bath. He had a good time. "How was Okkervil River?" I asked. "Really good," he assured me. "Have you come across Shearwater?" I enquired casually. "Oh yes, that's the singer from OR's band and someone else, isn't it? I've got one of their albums - Rook, it's called I think". "Can't catch you out on anything, can I?" Thanks, Mike, at least I asked a half-decent question for once. I'm immersing myself in Rook (as it were) and becoming increasingly hooked. A fabulous voice, although a couple of octaves higher than I had expected.

Another thing Ro has mentioned were the snacks. Not those he bought, but those passed around the camp fire. "The advantage of pitching your tent next to older people, you know, in their 30s and 40s." He met a number of friends his own age too, including one of the Bens he was at school with - there were 3 Bens he used to bring home, with the result that the Sage used to call all his friends Ben. One of the 'older people' gave him a lift each way - he had posted the offer of a lift on a car-sharing website.

The other culinary fact was that people kept offering him cups of tea. "What is it with making tea?" he wondered. "I mean, I like tea, but I wouldn't bother with lugging around a camp stove and a kettle and a bottle of gas, just so I wouldn't have to go without tea for 3 days." "Was that your friends?" I asked, wondering if he's quiz me on my imperfect grammar. "Oh no, old people," he said, obviously not meaning those as old as I.

He's got a birthday coming up this week. He's aging too.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Z has an eye in the back of her head

Not tipsy at all any more, and after a brief nap I've been doing the Sage's typing because I'll be out all day tomorrow. However, I thought I'd take my contact lens out and I can't find it anywhere. I mean, it must be in my eye, but I've poked and prodded and I can't feel it. You wouldn't think that this would happen and I'd be completely unaware of it, but I don't feel as if I've got a foreign body in the wrong place either. My fault for going to sleep without taking it out, but I usually get away with it. I hope it sorts itself out soon as I'll have a sore eye tomorrow otherwise.

It's raining again. It was fine this afternoon - in fact, we had a cheery barbecue in the garden. Good to see Phil's parents, we don't get together very often.

Ooh, it's tipping down. Poor old Ro.

Z is smashed

Really. It is taking the last of my concentration to type this. I will sit down and read the paper, probably laughing helplessly at all the government ballsups as if they don't affect me at all, and i'll return later.

Not bad though. Just one capital missing, as long as you're not fussy about the odd hyphen.

The Shearwater singer sings falsetto, you know. Very well, but it's still falsetto. At what stage do you call it counter-tenor? Hm.

Saturday 19 July 2008

It's raining

The friend I mentioned the other day came here after all. I was looking after Squiffany and Pugsley at the time as their mother had gone to sort out details of the teaching post she's taking up in September (a year's part-time contract). The children went to meet Chris, who said hello. Squiffany gazed at him solemnly, sizing him up, and then she waved and smiled and returned his greeting. Later, they both danced for him, all around the dining room table, so I think he make a good impression.

Today, is Weeza's moving day. Her in-laws are helping them move and they will all arrive with a vanload of furniture and boxes sometime during the early afternoon. The bigger items of furniture are arriving next weekend, when Phil will move too - he has one more week's notice to serve out at his current job. Weeza was supposed to start maternity leave on Friday but, having done a handover to her replacement on Tuesday, she decided to call it a day. She'd finished everything she was supposed to do and she'd had enough, with only three weeks to go before her due date. They've been doing all the Londoners' things for the last time in the last couple of weeks. There'll be a lot to miss, but also a good many things they won't miss at all. I suspect that public transport in the suburbs will be hard to adjust to. In the countryside, of course, it's pretty well ignored. It's clearly intended for pensioners and students, and the council think that they don't much matter, so it's not necessary to make it convenient and comfortable, let alone reasonably priced for the non-frequent user.

Although I'd have liked to spend a day at the festival, I'm not hardy enough nowadays for camping in the rain. The third heavy shower in the last couple of hours has started. Fortunately, Ro was well equipped with waterproofs, but I suspect he won't venture out of his tent for a while this morning. I don't imagine he'll find it easy to sleep in late in this weather - or is it just that I couldn't?

I'm on duty at the new house this morning, awaiting deliveries. Having woken up early, four hours ago and not slept since, I've cleaned the kitchen beautifully, but now must get ready to go. Have a good Saturday, one and all.

Friday 18 July 2008

Z suddenly comes over nostalgic, thanks to Martin

Martin was rhapsodising on the moon* today and it reminded me of my visit to the Taj Mahal - and then that reminded me of my honeymoon. Sadly, I'm not going to get all smoochy and sentimental on you. It's made me wonder just how we ever got through that first aeroplane flight.

The Sage isn't the best traveller. It all started when he and his brother were coming back across the North Sea on a car ferry, many years ago (I suspect it was back in the 50s, when I was a mere slip of a child). There was a storm, the captain of the English ferry refused to sail, the Dutch captain said "Pfft" and sailed - and the Sage and his brother went off for a full English**. They were dreadfully seasick on the way back, the ship nearly sank and the Sage has not travelled without anxiety ever since.

So, 1973. The Sage went to the doctor for some strong (and sedative) anti-sickness pills, for use on the journey from Heathrow to Mahé***.

We flew to Italy and stopped to pick up dinner and some more passengers. I tucked into the food, the Sage dozed. As we flew over North Africa, I was dreadfully excited. There was the Nile!!(!) I could see it, though I could make out nothing else, snaking across the landscape (I'd always rather be by the window than in the sensible aisle seat). I poked the Sage. "Look, look, there's the Nile!" He grunted and went back to sleep...

I stuck with him. I'm a saint. He really is a bad traveller though, I can't deny that.

Oh, by the way, we refuelled at Addis Ababa and we all got out and stretched our legs on the runway; the only time I've set foot in mainland Africa. There was a crashed plane at the end of the runway. It had been there a few weeks, apparently, although it wasn't a rare occurrence.

We stopped again in South Africa to pick up more passengers. I'll never forget**** landing on Mahé. The airport had been built by the shore, out into the water - I'm a gung-ho traveller and it didn't strike me that it wouldn't require much overshoot or cross-wind to land in the sea (I'm sure it's less intimidating now). When we got out, it was instant tropical island. It was fabulous. Steamy, humid, heat with the tang of the sea. No, it'll be one of the last memories to go.

*for pedants - on the subject of the moon

**that means a cooked breakfast, other-than-British darlings

***Main island of the Seychelles

****well, there's always Alzheimer's. Perhaps I shouldn't say that I'll never forget anything.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Z canoodles with a Man!!(!)

I went to the Sage and gave him a lingering kiss. "Thank you!" he said. "You don't say thank you for a snog," I reminded him. "Ah" he remembered, "Ro is away." "Yup. That's why I'm snogging you in the kitchen" I explained.

Ro has gone to the latitude festival. That means it'll probably rain most of the weekend. I had a chat with him last night. "You will go and watch Okkervil River, won't you?" I reminded him (that's them, right next to Blondie on the right side of the line up page - on the link, darlings, not this page. "Yes, I will, if I can" he replied patiently. "If there's a signing tent, you've got to queue up," I insisted. "Er" he said. "No, you must. Tell them your mother is a fan. They'll be mortified, but it'll be worth it to see their faces."

The Aga is to be serviced tomorrow, so we'll turn it off tonight. "Will you be in?" asked the Sage. I said I would. Noon is about the time he'll be going to see our Antiques Roadshow chum, who will be on his way back to Stansted. They've been filming this week at Oxburgh Hall. Chris, our chum, was a bit put out today. Someone brought in a rather impressive L'toft egg cup which is pretty valuable, but he didn't know that. He thought it was Caughley (another factory of the same period, but not as good) and so was very pleased to hear the news. What annoyed Chris, however, was that he was unwilling to be filmed. Apparently, he's an antique dealer and he'd bought the egg cup for £1 from someone living in the same village. Since he must have known it was worth considerably more, he came along to the Roadshow for a free valuation without the trade-off of being filmed if it was interesting. Anyway, I'm sorry to miss seeing Chris, who is a good chum, but it'll save him three quarters of an hour's driving if the Sage goes and meets him in a village by the main road rather than making him call here - though, being a polite and friendly sort of chappie, he would do that for the pleasure of seeing one or both of us. He lives several hundred miles away, so we don't meet often.

Weighing pigs

Regarding the total titsup that's happening this year about the school SATs - the thing that's upsetting me is not the complete hash that has been made of the marking, it's that the children concerned are being made to think that it matters to them. It absolutely doesn't. It's the league tables that it affects; the ranking of the school, for those who think that sort of thing matters (some parents, Ofsted, headteachers etc). It should not matter one brass farthing to the children themselves.

When SATs came to these shores, they were portrayed as being a measuring tool. The idea was that they would show the level each child was at by asking them questions at a rate that gradually became more difficult, but helped to show what they could do. It was said that most exams tested what a child didn't know, but SATs showed what (s)he did. But before long, they became more and more important, and this anxiety of the schools (and the parents) was transmitted to the child. Now, in the spring, primary schools coach to pass the SATs, not to further the education of the child. This is absolutely not what was intended at the start.

My younger son was in the guinea pig year, those born in 1983/84. They were the first to take the Key Stage 1 tests and the Key Stage 3 tests. They were also the first to take the AS levels in the lower sixth form, followed by A2s in the upper 6th. This means he was tested in year 2, year 6, year 9, year 11, year 12 and year 13. Official government tests, that is, national ones, not the usual end of term or year exams that we were used to. And all children are subjected to that now - though now, of course, the poor little creatures get Baseline Assessment (if that's what it's still called, I've been out of primary education for a couple of years) within the first few weeks of term, so that the Contextual Value Added scores can be taken into account at every stage. I'm not against testing, exams, and certainly not against rigour and high expectations, but the reliance on strictly regimented data at the top level is working against good education, not in favour of it, and is causing increasing anxiety for teachers and pupils.

In my naivety, I wasn't agin SATs when they started. I thought they would be useful. It was worrying, how many seven-year-olds couldn't read or write (not in our village school) and I thought it would help to target where improvement was most needed so that appropriate help could be given. But all that has happened is that children's lives have been made a misery. Never have they suffered such stress. It's a tribute to their resilience that, in spite of this, and the breakdown of family life and the pressure and anxiety of life, particularly in the cities, so many children still cope as well as they do.

And in the most recent instructions for Ofsted inspectors, it's the statistics that matter above all else. Look at the CVA scores, the SATs, the KS4 results, the RAISEonline data, the PANDA scores - oh no, scrub that last, that's been superseded. If we don't have a new acronym every couple of years, what are the mouse-pushers at the DfES to do with their time?

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Curiouser and curiouser

Before I put in my contact lens today, I could read the screen at either distance equally well. I've tried with one eye, the other eye and both. Isn't that splendid? My brain simply adjusts patiently and makes the best of things. And, after experimentation with a lens in (which I wear in my right eye), I find that my left eye does the reading, but the right eye helps out with focus as I get further away and gradually takes over as necessary. I still can't tell as it's happening though, it's all quite automatic.

I know that this would not work for me with glasses. Once, I took my glasses out of my bag to put them on to drive home after dinner with friends. As I put them on, my sight blurred and I thought I was getting a migraine. One of the lenses had dropped out into my bag - fortunately, I had a knife with a very small screwdriver and I was able to repair it, but I simply couldn't see normally with one lens of my glasses.

My in-laws had an elderly live-in housekeeper - she'd originally come as a general help, and nursemaid to the year-old Sprout and she stayed on for the best part of 50 years before retiring on the death of Ma. She had lost the sight in one eye, by the time I knew her, from a cataract. In those days you had to wait until it was thick and opaque before it could be operated on. By the time Hilda reached that level of sight loss, she said that she had got used to it and chose not to have an operation. She had one lens of her glasses obscured and managed with one eye. However, years later, when she was about 70, I suppose, she suffered a detached retina and lost the sight in her good eye. She took it in her stride, had the cataract removed from the other eye and simply switched useful eyes. I have no idea how she managed to do that, but she never even mentioned any problems.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Z spreads a little happiness

Yes, well, you don't get three posts every day. Just lucky St Swithin's day, I suppose. It hasn't rained, by the way, which I think means nothing at all. It's if it rains that it means 40 days of rain. Not that this happens, literally.

Um. Oh, I remember. I was leaning forward a bit on one elbow, reading blogs and I shut my left eye and the right was all blurred, though when I shut it and opened the left again, it was fine. Then I sat upright and put out my arm, so that I was reading the screen at the correct arm's length distance, and the left eye was blurry and the right eye was clear. I slowly moved in, with both eyes open, and I couldn't tell at which point the left eye took over the reading. Isn't that interesting?

Oh. Well, I'm interested.

Anyway, I spread good cheer all round the village this afternoon. There were 7 prizes for the hanging basket and tub (of flowers/vegetables, not bath tubs) competitions and another 6 lucky draws (no not lucky drawers) for the voting slips. One of them was my grandchildren's (I didn't draw them, I got a Respected Local Personage to come round) but I thought they'd prefer a toy and some beads to the £15 voucher for the local haberdashery.

Afterwards, I biked round distributing prizes. I made a monumental cock-up at one point when I put a £20 voucher (aren't local businesses kind?) for the lovely local place to eat through the door of the neighbour of the person it was intended for. I had to go to a friend's house (I hadn't taken my bag so had no pen or paper) to write explanatory notes for both. What a little plonker I am. When I got back to the houses, Donna was in, so I was able to explain and advise her to await the return of the prize from her neighbour.

Everyone was happy of course and a couple of prizes, it turned out, were going to relations of village people who live Elsewhere, so I was able to pass all of them on. I sent in a lovely spreadsheet with all the voting figures, added up and averaged (as some people had occasionally got missed off the voting by someone who hadn't got round all the village), and the names of the winners, to the editor of the village magazine, and all I have to do now is give the entrance money to the treasurer.

Right. No more tonight. I'm going to bed. Goodnight.

Z wants to build a Power Base!!(!) (no she doesn't)

A few evenings ago I received a slightly unfortunately phrased email, which I didn't reply to as I suspected that the writer didn't quite mean to say what she said. The next day I had an apology. She didn't mean to say that she thought I (and a few others) were trying to build an exclusive group etc, it's others who think that.

Didn't quite cut the mustard as apologies go, really. It raised more questions than it answered and now I'm wondering who on earth doesn't think I'm perfect just as I am.

So I left it another day, as I was a bit tired and it was approaching midnight, and I wrote back the next morning and explained rather more fully the nature of this proposed group and that in fact the wish is not to keep people out but to get more in - those who don't join in already because the more formal committee can put people off contributing. I assured her that no apology was needed, I hadn't taken offence, da-di-da, you know - which is true; frankly I don't care. I can be offended, but you have to put a degree of effort into it.

Anyway, then I got another long email of explanation, and oh Lord, it's fine, really. I'm just glad it isn't my bother.

Emailing is just too easy, you know. I said much the same thing when I was exchanging emails with that lady who got worked up because I decided not to join her Latin class - you will dash off an emailed note saying things you would not say if you had typed and printed or hand-written it. Emailing doesn't feel like writing a letter, but it is - and to make matters worse, its recipient can snap back and exacerbate the whole thing. You can get a bit carried away with the cleverness of your prose, or your feelings of irritation or indignation can make you give a snappy answer, because emailing is an odd sort of communication, between writing and speaking. If you say something, your tone of voice or the reaction of the person you're speaking to colours and can smooth the message you're giving.

It's not the first time I've had such an experience from that particular person, and if she does it to me she will have to others. She explains and tries to put things right afterwards, but her initial reaction is often inappropriately strong and I wish she could realise that and not press the send button until she's thought about it a bit.

The Sage speaks to the Police!!(!)

The telephone rang at ten past eight. I had only just got up so I left it to the Sage, who had been up for ages, to answer. When I came downstairs, he was on the phone again, to a neighbour.

You remember that I told you, the other day, about a young bullock that got out into the lane and then broke into our field with the cows? Its owner came and fetched it back, but this time a whole lot - 14 or something - broke out and ended up in the road, so someone rang the police and they rang us to ask who the cattle belong to. The Sage told them, but said that the farmer won't be home at this time of day, so gave directions to the farm as well.

Then he rang Ermintrude, the neighbour, and they had an enjoyable grumble together.

The farmer is a very pleasant chap and everyone likes him personally, but this sort of thing happens regularly and he is very casual about it. A couple of years ago, his cows kept breaking down our fence to get in with our cows, which had more grass - they waded through the river, which was not fenced in as it's where they drink, and across the footpath. The fence has needed regular repairs ever since. These very young bullocks are fenced in, but they're like any gang of little boys and will get up to mischief and it needs a good fence to hold them. The farmer - shall we call him Bartleby? - won't give out his mobile phone number and says "that's for me to use, not you" so you can't tell him quickly when there's a problem.

Anyway, the Sage, being a sensible sort of fellow and not wanting the cattle to cause an accident, has been down to keep them safe in the lane until Bartleby arrived. They put them back in the field - but Bartleby hadn't brought a hammer or staples to mend the fence. So it's held together with baler twine for the time being.

Monday 14 July 2008

Z bangs a Drum

A day at the high school, interviewing in the morning - we had a real difficulty in choosing between the top two candidates as they were so very, very good and our final deliberations took an extra half hour; not because we disagreed but because we all had the same level of difficulty and for the same reasons, so no one was trying to persuade the others. In the afternoon, I went to a music lesson and played the Djembe drums, which was jolly. I then had an end-of-year chat with the music teacher, which was useful and governor-appropriate, and ended in my offering to continue to go in weekly next year two, not because I feel obliged but because I enjoy it.

Nothing in the diary for tomorrow, which is just as well as I've things to catch up on.

There's a bit of a quagmire on the field because there's a leak in the water pipe where it connects to the house supply. It was only renewed last year - I'm not sure that it's the new bit that's leaking, but it's in the same area. Nearby, there's a tank which provides drinking water to cattle, with a ballcock so that it automatically fills up. The bogginess is all around that. Several weeks ago, a chappie from the water board came out, agreed it was their problem and it would go on the schedule for repair. After a reminder, they came, but by that time it was all so wet and muddy that they couldn't be bothered to investigate properly and sent in a report that the problem was with the tank. Someone else came out today and fortunately the Sage happened to see him, and went out to lift the manhole cover and prove that it was their side of the supply. So he agreed that they have to do it. It's not an awful leak, but there's a real mess around there now and, even if it's only 3 or 4 gallons an hour (let's say, I've no real idea), that's a lot over 6 weeks or more. Fortunately, the field being sandy soil on gravel, it will drain quite quickly once the pipe is mended.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Z relaxes, almost

The festival is finished, the church has been undecorated, except for the flowers and the treasurer is counting the takings (well, if I were she, I'd leave it until after dinner). I have the tub and hanging basket competition to count the votes for of (sort out the grammar yourselves, darlings, will you?) and then there will be the prize draw of the voting slips, because we have such generous sponsors that we can give a prize for everything.

Dinner is cooking - I wrapped a pork fillet (tenderloin, if that's how you know it) in bacon and shoved it in the oven, scrubbed some spuds and put them on to boil, cut up an out-of-season (Lord knows what country it came from) butternut squash and rubbed it with olive oil and bunged that in the oven, rejected the idea of picking veggies out of the garden and got some sweetcorn out of the freezer instead (total convenience food tonight, you see). Then, and only then ... 0:-) ... I opened a chilled bottle of wine and poured myself a glassful.

Ooh, and I arrived home to find a verbal invitation to a wedding next month. I'd known it was happening ages ago and knew we were to be invited, and that sort of relaxed attitude is fine by me. It's the sister of the girl whose wedding I went to in Madras three and a half years ago. This time, it won't be in India - booo!!(!) - although 6 weeks notice might be pushing it for that I suppose, possibly, especially as I will have a very small new grandbaby by then - just as well, I'd be so sorely tempted, however hot it is out there in August. Anyway, I rang back, gave Auntie my address and we'll have a written invitation next week.

Right. I expect dinner's about cooked. You see how much I care? I write to you before I eat. Greater love hath no Z than this.

Saturday 12 July 2008

The Fêteful Day

went fine. A mild and brief shower, just when the high school's wind band was entertaining us, but they played on as their sheet music started to curl and it was over in a couple of minutes - the rain that is. From then onwards, it was a fine day.

I showed Norfolk village granny credentials by strolling along, burger in one hand, pint of beer in the other, pushing Pugsley in his pushchair with a couple of leftover fingers.

Dilly and Al went to the local theatre this evening and Ro was babysitting, so we took our dinner through to keep him company and then the Sage went to do whatever Sages do on a Saturday evening while Ro and I watched a film. We took the Mac with us, as it enjoys the company. Besides, Al and Dil have been having a major springclean and their television is temporarily in their bedroom and the Mac is much bigger than a laptop, almost as easy to transport (I exaggerate) and better for two people to watch films on. Hot Fuzz. Haven't seen it before. Chortled happily.

When we came back, Ro carrying the computer (screen and comp are all-in-one), I with the keyboard, mouse, tray of dinner plates etc, newspaper and bits and pieces, we discovered that the Sage had gone out without telling us or leaving us a key. I went and asked for the spare key. Al had it on his keyring. Al was in the bathroom. Then he couldn't find his keys. He searched, with no useful result. Dilly glanced and found the keys. "Not her fault" I explained. "It's what women do and men don't."

Being small-minded and of a teasing frame of mind, I have left the key in the locked door, so that the Sage will have to knock when he gets home. I hope that's soon actually, as I'm quite tired. Unusual for me to think about going to bed before midnight; I don't like to miss the best bit of the day - well, one of them - but I was up early. And will be tomorrow.

Friday 11 July 2008

Fete nearly accompli

Of course, when the village has a fete (no point in putting in the accent unless you're using Safari as your browser, which probably none of you is) it doesn't just have a fete. It has a Beer Festival. It's no wonder that it goes down such a storm. From morning until night and on into the small hours (midnight at any rate), we Party On with the best of them.

Today, I played the organ for David's funeral and then went back to the church in the afternoon to decorate it. I bought all Al's flowers yesterday, cut swathes of greenery from the garden and did lots of flower arrangements. The church exhibition's theme this year is 'Childhood Memories'. I took a liquid theme as I grew up by Oulton Broad and wrote about (with a photo of mini-me) messing about in boats, my early fascination with newts and the winter of 1963, which was incredibly cold, with ice so thick on the Broad that cars could drive on it.

The Sage's earliest memories were of the war. So that's what his display is about.

I finally lurched home, limping on both feet, at about 6 o'clock, or possibly later. We'd planned to have a barbecue but the weather had turned showery, so Dilly cooked dinner for us all, which was lovely. She had come to help me in the church and the children were angelic, until Pugsley started to become uncharacteristically fretful at about 5ish, at which point it dawned on us that he'd missed his afternoon nap. He kept his patience, with an effort, until she was ready to take him home. He then went straight to bed and to sleep and missed his dinner. We wonder if he'll wake up hungry in the middle of the night.

A registered envelope arrived this morning, addressed to me. The Sage signed for it, and was highly curious to know what it was. It's Ro's ticket to the Latitude festival - I'm so annoyed with myself that I didn't buy a ticket for myself too, when I was getting his as a present, because I thought he'd hate to have to go with his old mother. Since, of course, they have sold out.

I also received four free light bulbs from British Gas.

I also had a dividend cheque for £19.55.

Dilly has been offered a part-time teaching job next year, and has accepted it.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Auctions and bidding

Gordie wondered if it was quite ethical for an auctioneer to run the bidding up to the reserve, rather than let it finish at the point where there is only one bidder left.

Right - well, first of all, most items have a reserve; that is, a price below which the lot will not be sold. Put it this way - if you went to a car dealer, wanting to sell your car for £2,000 and he only offered you £500, you'd probably not sell, would you? Especially if you still owed £1,000 on it. You would have a figure in your mind for negotiation, but there would be a point at which you could not sell it unless you were completely desperate - and if you knew it was worth the money and he'd be selling it on at a profit, you'd keep bargaining for a realistic offer, or take it home again.

When you send a picture to an auction, you own it until the fall of the hammer and you are under no obligation to sell it for less than the sum that you and the auctioneer have agreed it's worth. You will also agree with the auctioneer if there's any flexibility on that. For example, let's say there's £100 reserve, but someone bids £95. If the auctioneer takes it to £100, another bid actually pushes it past the reserve, so he probably would let it go at £95.

For an auction to work, there needs to be at least two people bidding. But let's say you are willing to pay £100, but no one else is bidding. It is acceptable for the auctioneer to point down and take bids 'off the book' until the reserve is reached - but not after. This is up to the ethics of the auctioneer - if he knows that there is someone in the room who might pay more than the reserve, he must not take advantage of that, but let the piece find its own level in the bidding. Nor may he use a commission bid (that is, someone who has left a maximum bid with him) to bump up the bidding past the reserve. The Sage is always cautious about leaving bids unless he trusts the auctioneer because not all of them are completely scrupulous about not using commission bids.

So far, you think that as a buyer you are being manipulated. But look at it from the other side.

Gordie and Z are friends with an interest in pictures in common and they go to an auction together. Gordie really likes the Seago and says so. Z likes it too, but she wouldn't dream of running the price up high for her friend, so she says she won't bid until he drops out. Fair enough, but it would not be fair on the owner of the picture that the price is artificially low because two friends have done some private negotiation.

Between friends or colleagues this is one thing, but among dealers it's a different matter. And this is where you need a skillful auctioneer who knows what things should be worth and has valued them correctly with a realistic reserve. An auction ring is illegal, but regularly used.

A group of dealers gets together and agrees how to bid to get lots for the lowest possible price. The designated bidder buys the items and pays for them and afterwards, they all get together and have a private auction amongst themselves. The pieces are resold, the buyer is reimbursed and everyone shares the profit - except the former owner who didn't get the value of his pieces, and the auctioneer who earns a reduced commission - and, arguably, deserves to, you might say. Well yes, if he only takes live bids in the room and then lets it go, but if he's allowed to bid an item up to its sensible reserve, it won't happen; or at any rate, to a much lesser extent.

Of course, at the sort of auction we went to yesterday, this sort of thing would not happen. There was no question of any dodgy dealership at all and, although the room was full, there was also a whole tableful of people taking telephone bids. No question of collusion and quite a few private buyers, because I saw them. The sale went well because it deserved to; it was, genuinely, a private collection put together over many years, of very attractive and appealing local pictures. It was very professionally conducted in a relaxed atmosphere. I thought it was lovely that the vendors had chosen to sell in Norwich rather than send the pictures to London and I think that paid off, in that there were so many private collectors as well as dealers.

I think I may have given you the impression that there is only ever one person bidding - that's not so and it's all the more fun when there's spirited bidding in the room. Some people are willing to come in at the start and others prefer to wait and see how it's going (if the auctioneer gave up as soon as no one bid, these people would never come in, but they might bid strongly once they get going). If I want a piece I bid promptly (if I can get a bid in edgeways) and remain determined, bidding again as soon as I'm taken out. I know perfectly well that I'm not going to get it for more than a bid less than the guide price or estimate (unless I'm very lucky and the reserve is well under that; an unlikely circumstance) so I don't mind if there's not another bidder - though there may well be and it's more fun that way as there's an extra element of competition. I fix in my mind the price I want to pay and the price I will go up to if I must - though if there's really spirited bidding, I might think 'hm, maybe I've undervalued it a bit' and go a bit further if I can afford to. Always remember to add on the auctioneer's commission and VAT on the hammer price, and check if there's any extra tax on the item itself. There may be if it's being sold by a dealer, if it's been imported for sale or if the painter is still alive he's paid commission every time his piece is auctioned.

If you go to a general auction sale and there isn't a catalogue or it's just a printed sheet, there may be no reserves and everything is just sold as seen.

I've not been clear enough - let's go through it carefully.

I go to an auction and see a tea cup and saucer that is just what I want. And the estimate is only £200-£220 - what a bargain that would be! The bidding starts at £80 and goes up steadily until it reaches £160, but then the other bidder shakes his head. He doesn't appreciate fine china, it seems. The auctioneer looks around for another bidder, but he doesn't see one. There am I, all hopeful and keen and ready to continue bidding, but the reserve (the price the seller has said that the bidding must reach) is higher than £160. It is normal practice in any auction house for an auctioneer to continue as if there is another bidder (this is called 'taking bids off the wall'). So, he says "£170", I bid £180, he says "£190", I put my hand up again for £200 and then the auctioneer continues to look around - but if there is no other bidder and the reserve price has been reached (that is, he has bid up to the reserve), he will bang down his gavel, and the cup and saucer becomes mine.

Sometimes, it works the other way. No one wants to start the bidding and then the auctioneer will probably offer a lower starting price. Then, when I've put in my bid, he will point at his book to indicate that he is bidding against the reserve (that is, running up the price because my bid is still lower than the price he can sell at) until someone else is encouraged to start bidding; then he'll take my bid alternately from the other person's in the usual way. I'll probably be overcome with excitement and end up bidding more than I meant to for the cup and saucer.

Of course, more often there are at least two bidders and it isn't necessary to do any of this. But if the auctioneer waits ages, anxiously, for bids, it absolutely kills the atmosphere and there's a good chance that hardly anything will sell. That's why a good auctioneer is worth his weight in teacups.

Anything more you would like to know, Gordie and Dandelion? Or TMI already? Query anything I've said, by all means.

Cow's that? Out!!(!)

It's always when you've been pottering round for a bit and not putting your face on that things happen. At least I was dressed. I rarely come downstairs before I'm dressed as it's the sure prompt for a small and orderly queue of people to come to the door and embarrass me.

Anyway, I did this and that and was just thinking of putting the eye in and the face on when the phone rang. It was Daphne. A cow had just walked past her door going towards the road. I thanked her, said I'd go and see what I could do - I was just putting in the contact lens when Dilly rang. She gave the same unwelcome news, but added that she didn't think it was one of ours as it was very small and she thought it was a boy. I started to cuss the neighbouring farmer - a charming man but an annoying stockman - who is really quite careless about keeping his cattle in his fields. Then I got on my bike, clutching a stout walking stick in one hand and whizzed off towards the church. There was no sign of a cow or bullock. I went up the road some way, in case it had gone into someone's garden, but couldn't see it. I went to look down the footpath alongside our field and there were two large cows talking to their cousins which were still in the field. They were well down the path and I went home to get some rope to close off the path.

I also spent three minutes slapping on some make-up. Vain? Merely considerate of other people.

The Sage came home. I suggested that he might try to remember taking his phone with him in case I needed him and told him the situation. We agreed that he'd go across the field and I'd go back to the path in case they went the wrong way.

No more drama, those good girls were peacefully grazing, the Sage found where the fence was broken down and I walked them back to the opening, and they returned home. I'd noticed the cause of all the trouble though; a small bullock which was nuzzling the cows hopefully in a "will you be my new mum?" sort of way. He really was quite small and I feel sorry for him. Evidently, he'd got out of his field, got lost, nearly went on the road, then saw the cows and pushed his way through the fence. Then they went through the gap. We left him there with the cows - the farmers can sort it out.

It was 10.45. I went home and had a substantial breakfast, as I'd not eaten yet, of black coffee, plain yoghurt, dry toast and (this was what made it more substantial than usual) a banana. If it weren't for the quantity of wine I drink (though not normally for breakfast) I'd be tiny already.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Z sits on her hands

This is the auction we went to. The collection being sold - Lots 1-128 - belonged to someone whom the Sage had known for many years; indeed, he'd sold him a dozen or so of the pictures. It was a lovely collection; mostly of East Anglian painters and mainly land, sea and river scapes with a few still lifes and flower paintings. The ones I liked best were the Tom Smythes and the Campbell Mellons, and I've a soft spot for John Moore and Eloise Stannard. I also liked the Seago, which was Lot 128, but that was certainly well beyond even our wildest splashing-out range. In fact, we put in a bid here and there (not in the thousands) but didn't buy anything.

Now I see the prices online, it's interesting - the auctioneer mostly said if something wasn't sold (and most pictures were) but sometimes, if a piece doesn't meet its reserve, one doesn't exactly broadcast the fact. The most expensive pictures were 'sold' for £88,000, but we didn't believe it (the estimate was £100,000-£150,000) and I see that the lot has been announced as selling for £85,000. That means that they didn't meet their reserve, the auctioneer tried to push them up against the reserve (this is legitimate, but pushing it once the reserve has been met is not, it's totally unethical) but then spoke to the buyer and the bidder and brokered a sale after all at the lower price.

If you don't want to look through all the prices, I should tell you that this was by far the most expensive lot and most of them were in the hundreds or low thousands. You might still protest that this is a lot of money for a painting but don't look at these fairly low-price collectors, look at the people who blow thousands, or hundreds of thousands of pound on a party or a holiday or millions on - well, anything really. It's easy come, easy go to them.

We saw a lot of people we knew. One chap said "hello" and I greeted him in return - it took a second to think why I knew him. He used, before his retirement, to be our MP. I always liked him. He was a very good constituent MP and was always willing to come to local events, even when he was a cabinet minister. Once, he came to open an extension to the village school. He was Secretary of State for Education at the time and he spent some time finding out my views on various current education matters. I was vastly gratified, the next week, to hear him in the House of Commons repeating some of the things I'd said. I'm not for one minute saying that I influenced his thinking, maybe I (with others) reinforced it but it was, in my experience, typical of him. He listened to people and considered what they had to say.

We also saw our good friends A & A, who used to have an art gallery in L'toft. They bought the house we lived in when we got married, and still live there 34 years later. A was with the Sprout* and me on our first visit to London together, the one that made us realise just how much we were starting to like each other...

Among the staff who were taking telephone bids was a man whose face I knew, but I couldn't place him until A hissed "That's him off the telly!" Indeed it was; someone who's often on Fl0g 1t and similar vaguely antiquey sort of daytime programmes (did I mention that the Sage was once interviewed as an expert on that programme? It's been aired at least 3 times, which makes people think he's a regular). I can't find a picture - it's kraM yecatS (sorry, but I'd mislead unfortunate Google searchers by bringing them here). He is a proper antiques expert though, he's not just doing it for show on daytime TV! The auctioneer was the woman mentioned in this article, who was excellent and had both authority and considerable charm.

All in all, then, a most enjoyable couple of hours. The pictures were all hung in the saleroom so I was able to have a good look before the sale started. Afterwards, I left the Sage having lunch with A & A and nipped off to have a quick look round the shops, but I wasn't very tempted. I bought a pair of trousers and a top, but that wasn't much considering I was in quite a buying mood. It would be silly to buy many clothes, in fact, as I still have weight to lose. Only one size down as yet, and a stone. 14 pounds. 6.4 kilos. It's going though, and missing lunch isn't a bad thing once in a while.

I only saw a few of the Norwich elephants (scoot over to Dave’s blog if you want pictures) but I wasn't awfully impressed. They look better in the photos, I thought. Quite effective as street art, and I'm all for people being engaged in art - maybe they are a bit too spread out. I only saw a few of them as I didn't have time to go all over the city centre.

*He became the Sage when he wisely married me

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Z and the Sage plan to go out together

Three meetings, each on a completely different subject, today, as well as meals on wheels and playing the organ for a funeral. It was all spread over 12 hours. I've got minutes to write from two of them tomorrow.

The Sage went to view a sale in Norwich. When he showed me the catalogue, I wished I'd been able to go too. I invited myself to go with him to the sale itself, tomorrow. No plans to buy anything, but we'd like to see the auction and besides, the Sage knows the vendor who was a keen buyer of pictures at his own auctions in the past, back in the days when the Sage was a full-time auctioneer, before he chose his tiny specialisation in semi-retirement.

Since we're going to be in the centre of Norwich, I'd like to spend a bit of time pottering around, but I bet the Sage will be keen to get home again. He's very purposeful, my husband.

Monday 7 July 2008

The woman's a fool

I've been giving tips to the Sage on how to win an argument and look good too - that is, not appear to play dirty.

I don't know whether to hope he's taken it in or not. If he has, I'll have to up my game somewhat.

I'll still outdebate him though. I've got more on my side than words.

Z Pavlova

Salad tonight, with smoked mackerel, which I have lovingly filleted to save my darling boys the trouble. I took the food through to the dining room except the potatoes, which are still cooking. I laid the table. The sounds must have filtered through to Ro in the room above (it's not his bedroom but has better wireless reception than his room). I heard clattering on the back stairs. "Sorry" I said, "five more minutes". Moments later, the Sage's hungry head poked round the door. "Sorry," I said, "Five more minutes."

I just need to make the right noises and they appear. It's like putting the kettle on, which works without sound with the Sage.

Wasting words

I didn't mention, yesterday, that Al has found his Queen! There are pictures of childbirth on his bee blog too, which is not nearly as not-for-the-squeamish as it sounds. All awfully exciting.

We've decided to put a fence all around the 4-acre field in front of the house. We used to let a friend graze sheep there, using electric fencing, but she got a proper (meaning, it brings in an income) job some years ago and since, it's just been cut for hay. It was cut a couple of weeks ago and there may be an aftermath, depending on the amount of rain we get this summer. After that, we'll lend or let it for grazing again - sheep are best as they nibble the grass very short and their little hooves don't damage the ground while they fertilise it nicely at the same time. Horse owners pay, on the other hand, but horses aren't good for pasture as they only eat some of the grass and their droppings should be cleared up as they won't eat near them and they encourage rank growth and weeds. I dunno. It'll all work out. Our charming Polish couple have heavily cut back the privet hedge around the tennis court and more undergrowth needs to be trimmed (no birds' nests were injured during this operation, we checked very carefully) and then they will dig the holes for the posts. A farmer friend will lend his post-hole borer.

The farmer friend is Jonathan, by the way, who had that horrible accident with his foot a few weeks ago. He is doing very well now and determined to be back in the saddle, tractor-wise, before long. His paperwork and accounts are all very well up to date now, as he didn't do nothing during his recuperation.

Anyway, Jack and Barbara (I know, I expect they have Anglicised their names for our benefit) rang this morning to say it was pouring with rain where they live and what was it like here? It was fine at the time, but rain was forecast so they didn't come over. It has bucketed down since, so just as well.

You know, if the PM wants to complain about food waste, he might start by looking at supermarkets which reject perfectly good but marginally "too big" or "too small" produce from farmers, which often has to be dumped. You'd really think he would have more important things to think about. Indeed, that sort of thing is important, but not at a strategic level. He is trying to pass the blame to us and to distract us from what's really going wrong with prices and his government of the country.

I understand he chartered an aeroplane to go to the G8 summit conference in Japan. If that is so, it seems awfully wasteful to me.

Of course, the whole drama about "one third of the food we buy is thrown away" is not even accurate. I remember distinctly that when this report first came out a few years ago, it was said that it was not possible to differentiate between wasted good food and vegetable peelings, bones etc which were inedible. So if you bought a chicken, roasted it, ate all the meat and threw away the carcase or boiled it up for soup and only threw away the bones, you'd still be chucking about a pound of organic matter away, which would probably be about a quarter of the total weight. I'm not saying that people don't waste food - and indeed, I think it's better to know when you've eaten enough and stop, even if that does mean food is left on the plate - but that I don't believe it's anywhere near what has become the standard suggested amount.

There's not a great deal wasted here, in fact, because Tilly and the chickens eat much of the scraps, other vegetable waste goes on the compost heap and we use up most leftovers. But sometimes things get thrown away, as well as the inedible bits. And I can do without a politician who has been promoted past his level of competence patronising me by telling me how to housekeep.

Sunday 6 July 2008

Bums on seats

You know, I do recommend churchgoing if you're getting a bit het-up. Of course, it may be the stress of churchgoing that hets you up in the first place, but it calms you down too, especially if you stop and listen and think about it a bit.

The flowers from last week were falling about a bit, which meant a fair bit of picking up after I'd carted them down the aisle and into the kitchen (this may be a v. old church, but we have Mod Cons) and I had brought along some foliage - random leaves, feverfew (can't remember the Latin) and alchemilla mollis (can't remember the English) and a bunch of sunflowers and a bunch of chrysanthemums and decided to refresh the best of last week's and make two arrangements into one. Not, in this case, aided by two bored toddlers, it went pretty well and looked good when reinstated on the reredos behind the altar.

At the same time, I was getting things ready for coffee; filling the urn and a kettle, switching on the hot water, putting coffee into cafetières, getting out mugs, sugar and milk, putting out biscuits, tables and chairs etc and the usual unlocking of extra doors in case of fire, and - oh you know, stuff. The usual.

The Fellow* suggested that we sit near the front to encourage the minister, rather than at the back to keep an eye on the congregation. Most of the hymns were much too high for me, which did not put me off but probably hurt his ears rather. I explained, afterwards, that an organist would rather hear someone singing badly than have no response at all.

Anyway, splendid sermon, with the excellent suggestion, tongue in cheek as it was, that we might get Results if we offered Hard Cash to children to come to Sunday School. Seriously, I'm all for it. Get 'em in first and they'll feel the benefits in due course. I'm not up for indoctrinating little children and I'm quite uncomfortable with the hardline religious stuff as preached to people who don't know enough to argue and question, but it keeps me going when nothing else would and exposure in childhood has done its bit all through life.

*My fellow churchwarden, who is a darling.

Update I've reread this and realised I gave the wrong impression - I didn't actually go to Sunday School as a child, I went to church as our mother liked to keep an eye on me. I went there once though with a friend and found it a bit too friendly and clubby for me. I think that was my morose and solitary personality at fault there though.

Saturday 5 July 2008

Goodness gracious Z

I have the Fug Girls to thank for this divine piece of film. If you think the dancing is good, wait until you get to the singing. And the trousers - I have no words to describe the trousers.

Friday 4 July 2008

Tomorrow, the Sage and Z will be Polished

Tonight's barbecue was steak. The children had burgers because they prefer them, but they are proper butcher-made burgers, not some mass-produced nonsense with cereal fillers in them. When Ro arrived home, he said that he wasn't very hungry and a steak would be a bit wasted on him, so he had burgers too.

Ro is taken out to lunch by his bosses every Friday. They like a meal out and, as he's their only employee, he goes with them. They would like to employ someone else, but they haven't found anyone else as good as Ro (this is true, not proud-mummyishness; I'm not saying that there is no one as good as Ro, but that he fits into the company very well) so they just all work hard. Today, they went to an Indian restaurant and the portions were generous (as are Ro's employers) and he was hungry. He works late on Fridays to make up for the long lunchtime; they don't ask him to but he wouldn't take advantage, of course.

There are going to be two funerals at the local church next week - I'll be playing the organ for both of them. One is for a lady, in her 90s, whose husband died more than 30 years ago (he was considerably older than she and did not die prematurely) and she will be buried with him in the double grave. The gravedigger hoped that he'd be able to bring in his small mechanical digger, but the Sage said he'd phoned to tell him he was afraid it would have to be a hand job. A hand job takes a long time and is hard work, he explained.

Dilly and I caught each others' eyes and snorted with laughter. The Sage didn't understand why.

The other funeral is for David whom I mentioned a few days ago. We're busily harvesting produce from his garden for Al to sell; it is in respect and friendship to his memory that we don't want to let it waste and his family have a lot of other clearing up to do. Dilly and I will go along at 8 tomorrow morning, pick flowers and lettuces, then go and drop them off at the shop, pick up the carpet cleaner from our cousins whose business includes letting out such equipment and be home by 9 to relieve the Sage, who will have been babysitting, to tell the Polish people what needs to be done.

"Walker says you're a cancer; I just think you're a 'flu." Crying Drunk, by the Old 97's (sic). Is it any wonder that I love 'em? Add that to "I'd be lying if I said I didn't have designs on you" and "I won't tell a soul except the people in the nightclub where I sing" - Designs on You - and you won't be surprised that I play them over and over. Fabulous. The guitar riff on Stoned would be enough to win me over in any case.

Z raises a glass

It's a beautiful day. I've picked lettuces, sweet peas, gooseberries and artichokes for the shop. I've cycled in for my shopping and been to the library. I will take the papers, the books, a glass of wine and some smoked salmon and go and relax on the lawn.

I've been eating little but fruit and yoghurt this week until the evening, but today I feel completely self-indulgent. It's too hot to work in the garden and too fine to work indoors. As I cycled, I thought of a subject for a post, but now it's all planned in my head, it feels that the job's done and I don't really need to write it down any more. Maybe later. Possibly.

Cheers, darlings

Thursday 3 July 2008

Old Z, new tricks

I went in to the fish stall on the market today. I thought a barbecue would be good and I've bought whole sea bream all round, with salmon for the children. I'm not being mean, I think they'll balk at the bones. Everyone was out today and I stopped for several chats. When I was spoken to by name, the fishmonger remarked on it. "We called our foal Z" he said, "after my wife's grandmother. Her show name is S1lver L1n1ng." I said gratified sorts of things about both names. It transpired that the mare, the foal's mother, had died during the delivery but a live and healthy foal was some consolation. I asked how it was being brought up - apparently, someone else's mare had borne a sick foal that, after operations, was not going to survive, so it was replaced by the newly-born Z.

One customer was also buying for a barbecue, but some of the fish cost more than she was willing to pay. Then she said that her dogs were very fond of scallops, so she often bought them for a Sunday breakfast treat. I admitted that scallops are a treat for me, never mind for dogs.

Last night's barbecue was a success - Ro's idea, Dilly made salads, Al bought the meat and rolls, I provided a range of drinks, with cutlery and china and the Sage did the cooking. We remarked on Ro's powers of delegation, as well as of suggestion.

Squiffany politely asked me what I'd like to drink. "Wine, please," I said and then, after it was poured, "Cheers". She was rather enchanted at that and toasted the whole family. "Cheers, Granny, Cheers Daddy" - you get the picture. Pugsley repeated the salutations. Cheers every time anyone raised a glass took up a fair bit of the evening.

Just off for some Governor training. 20 years experience is by no means enough not to need to keep updating one's knowledge.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Z does not speak good English, but Pugsley does, almost

"Gordon Bennett!" I exclaimed. "It's almos' as bad as the car, innit?" I'm afraid I speak Estuary English along with most people nowadays. The Sage had just got back from his fourth visit to the dentist, his newly-crowned tooth is sparkling prettily and he has paid the bill. Nearly £800. It's when you need the services of the dentist, the vet or the car mechanic that you appreciate the NHS.

Pugsley has achieved 4 word sentences now. Such as "Come on, Granny, outdoors" "Find socks and shoes" "Bird on the grass" "Poo on the grass" (observing Tilly performing her morning functions) and "Flies on the poo." His sentences are always well-constructed and make sense, and he speaks very clearly, although he does not yet appreciate that a verb is necessary for grammatical correctness. Squiffany went reluctantly to her nursery school - she's still finding it hard to leave her mummy and brother although she does join in and enjoy it when she's there.

When Dilly and I were sitting on the wall (well, the foundations of the wall-to-be) chatting, Pugsley came up and remarked on the tiny red spiders scuttling over it. "Tiny spiders, spider webs" he remarked. "What colour are they?" asked his mother. "Spiders" he said again. "Are they blue, yellow, red or green?" I said. "Red spiders" he told me, slightly puzzled by my stupidity. "Did you know he knew that?" I asked Dilly. "No, but I didn't know he could count either, until he did the other day." It's having a big sister that does it. She tells him all sorts of useful things.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Z is not power-hungry

I went off to the high school as usual to help with a music lesson and found the head of maths in the room instead, just drawing the lesson to a close. She looked slightly harassed. They are the liveliest Year 9 group; I've spent some time with them. The teacher had left a note asking me to start off the next class. Ah. Never done that before.

It took some raising of my voice - I speak loud and clear because both Kenny, our former gardener, and my mother suffered from tinnitus and couldn't always hear a quiet voice, and I've not lost the habit. However, a couple of dozen chatty teenagers drowned me out for a minute. They soon settled down, I explained what they had to do, passed out worksheets and started off the lesson. D'you know, they were angels. No trouble at all. A few clicked the clipboards a couple of times, but a look, quizzical rather than severe, was enough - they weren't really meaning to annoy, it was merely irresistible. The teacher came in after 40 minutes, very apologetic that it had been rather more than starting the lesson, but i assured her that it had been no problem at all - and it was true.

The chairman of governors wrote to me yesterday to tell me that one of the other governors whose term of appointment is up has decided to step down. Another long-term governor is intending to before long, I know. Both are excellent, very knowledgeable - both former senior teachers at the school, as it happens. I'm dismayed. I had realised (after having seriously considered standing down this autumn) that I'd have to carry on - there are constant changes afoot and it really does help to have a few people around who have known the place for some time - but I had rather wanted to relinquish the vice-chairmanship and there aren't many people who would be likely alternative candidates. I've been going into school and into lessons a good deal this past year and have enjoyed that, both in music and learning support, so I'm just hoping that the chairman will carry on for a few more years.

Not a cloud in the sky

After the last couple of days, it'll take a while to re-establish my frivolous credentials. Hm. Haven't had breakfast yet. I'll go and open a bottle or two of champagne while I think about it.

Won't think very hard though. The sun's shining.